I was really excited to read this novel. I had heard a lot of good things about it, people seemed pretty excited about it, but honestly I was kind of disappointed. But before I get into the bad, I'll first tell you about the good.
I really did enjoy the world of the series. Essentially, it's about an empire of Martials that conquered a people that refer to themselves as Scholars. I'm sure you already caught on to the fact that Martials are the military based society while Scholars are the bookwormy folk. Basically Gryffindor vs Ravenclaw.
Anywho, one of our main characters is Laia who is part of the Scholar people while our other MC is Elias who is a Martial in training. Now these two characters trade off back and forth telling the story in first person and eventually their paths cross.
So with that being said, I really did enjoy the world of the book. We spend most of our time in the Martial training school called Blackcliff that trains young Martial's to be what they call Masks. It's a cut throat place where you get taken as a young kid and if you're still alive by the time you reach eighteen you graduate. Pretty hard core.
Now, Laia, without giving too much away, her family gets attacked by the Martials and both her grandparents are killed and her brother is taken. She manages to escape and through a series of events ends up as a slave to the head of Blackcliff who is this psychopath woman they call Commandant who just happens to be Elias' mother.
So now that you got the idea I have a few irritating things about this book that almost made me put it down. For one, it's written in first person and I felt the author used this as a way to basically give the reader our characters entire backstory in just a couple paragraphs. One of the main rules of writing is "Show don't tell" and this book failed miserably. Entire paragraphs were the MC just giving us the run down of what's gone on over the course of the last 500 years.
Now, it's okay to use this tactic in certain situations as long as you do it sparingly. But the first 200 pages had ALOT of this. I mean alot alot. Where it really killed me was she used this quite often when trying to give the reader background on Laia and her brother's relationship. Let me be clear, Laia's entire objective through this book series is to save her brother. And the author, instead of giving us wonderful scenes of sibling love and affection to cling to she instead opted to include sentences like "I think back to when my brother taught me how to read." I don't care. Why didn't you SHOW us a scene where he was teaching her to read? Her brother was in the first chapter and that was it. We got next to no interaction between the two of them and in the first few sentences of the book she tells us that he's been pulling away from the family. I just couldn't get behind her mission because I didn't really care about her brother. I didn't know anything about him, therefore, I didn't care.
Getting off my soapbox now, I really liked Elias' character. He was much more interesting. While he also did alot of telling instead of showing I feel like it was less so. We were also in his territory for the entire book so all his classmates who have known him for years and his mother were all frequently around. We got to see many interaction's between him and his grandfather who is very protective and fatherly to Elias. It got to the point where I was only interested in reading Laia's scenes when she interacted with Elias.
To the credit of the author though I was not bombarded with romance-y stuff. This I appreciated. There was definitely attraction between characters but there wasn't a whole lot of lovey dovey scenes. I found it interesting that she had our MC's have sexy thoughts about multiple people. It kept us guessing on who they would actually end up with, if anyone. Now when I say sexy thoughts, I mean they are physically attracted to multiple people. A bold choice, that I liked, because it's in first person, and yeah, young adults are going to have those types of thoughts about more than just one person. Awesome.
So before this gets too too long I'll just say that I actually did like the book. The writing style, I felt, needed some work. I wasn't truly enthralled in the story until at least 200 pages in. Most people cannot last that long and would have closed it long before then. But now that the world is established and we know something about these characters I hope the second one is more gripping.
I'm sorry to say that I'm a little behind in my reading due to my vacation but I will catch up soon! Currently I'm reading the second novel in this series called "A Torch Against the Night" by Sabaa Tahir and will post my thoughts on that soon.
Until then here's an inspirational quote to get you through:
"Life is like a book. There are good Chapters, and there are bad chapters. But when you get to a bad chapter, you don’t stop reading the book! If you do…then you never get to find out what happens next!" – Brian Falkner